At your best – using your strengths to face into your challenges

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 

Close your eyes and think of a time when you were nailing it – performing at your best, feeling really confident from a deep authentic place and being true to your values. Go on, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, bring forward a memory and really savor it.

These times stay with us, as particularly vivid memories of us at our best. They help to form a picture of who we are and what we see as our strengths. If you’re like me, and you really relax in to that exercise, it will give you a big uncontrollable smile, helping to induce the brains’ happiness chemicals.

We all have enablers – attitudes, beliefs, behaviors – that help us be at our best. For me, the strengths that I own are courage, resilience, gratitude, fairness and a deep and passionate love of learning. These strengths guide me, they both ground me and they raise me up.

Reflecting and recognising our strengths is incredibly important. In fact, using more of our strengths, more often builds confidence, self-esteem, resilience, leads to higher job engagement, improved health, better business outcomes and and increased quality of life.

What if I told you that you could call on your strengths at will to help you with the most difficult challenges you face? Even when your strengths seem not remotely related to the challenge?

How cool is that?!

By reminding ourselves of the qualities we employ when we are best at, and what matters most to us, we are able to ground ourselves in our own truth, we feel less needing of the approval of others and more comfortable with their disapproval should it come.

A large and ever growing body of scientific evidence shows that when people have grounded themselves in their strengths before a challenging meeting or public speaking event, they perform better and they have much less cortisol (the stress hormone) in their system compared to those who have not undertaken some strength based reflection.

These types of self-affirming strength exercises have been shown to decrease stress, improve relationships, improve sales and negotiation skills and improve performance in almost any situation where the pressure is on and the stakes are high. Studies have also shown that the people who are most worried about what others think of them benefited the most from these types of exercises.

The good news is, it’s super easy for you to undertake a strength exercise to remind yourself of the best, most authentic parts of you:

  1. Write a short list of the things you are good at and are important to you about you (eg humour, good natured, hard working, patient, thoughtful, driven) or undertake a survey like the VIA Strengths Finder and take a moment to consider how these strengths show up for you.
  2. When you’ve identified 3 – 4 strengths that feel authentic and true write down a few dot points, or a paragraph, about how you have leveraged these strengths in the past.
  3. Re-read and reflect on these few pages leading up to an important meeting or event. Deeply connect with and believe the words you have written about you when you have been at your best.

As Amy Cuddy states in her book Presence “…before heading in to a situation where we may be challenged, we can reduce our anxiety by reaffirming the parts of our best selves we value most.”

By doing this we relax more, perform better, we are less defensive, are more open to feedback and are able to access better problem solving skills. Our brain functions better because we are calmer and not overloading it with stress and anxiety. We can literally think more clearly.

The coolest thing is that the reflection is only on your core strengths NOT the strengths that are relevant to the task at hand. You don’t need to confirm that you are an awesome public speaker or a great negotiator, you just need to reflect on the best parts of yourself and you will be a better public speaker or negotiator!

Accessing your authentic best self is not about psyching yourself up by saying things that don’t mean anything to you “I am the best”, “I am worthy”. It is about being able to draw on your power from the things you do best, helping you to trust in yourself, building your confidence and unleashing your potential!